Colorado Brings The ‘Right To Repair’ Movement To Wheelchairs

from the Do-not-pass-go,-do-not-fix-your-essential-medical-device dept

Last week, New York State became the first state to pass right to repair legislation. The bill was the culmination of years of consumer frustration with repair monopolies, obnoxious DRM, shrinking repair access, high repair costs, and impossible to find tools, parts, and documentation. While the bill only covered some consumer electronics, activists hope it expands to additional sectors (auto, medical).

More quietly, Colorado also passed a narrow right to repair law more specifically targeting electric wheelchairs (hat tip to Cory Doctorow). Like so many sectors, electric wheelchair manufacturers have slowly carved out a monopoly over wheelchair sales and repair, making repairs expensive and difficult (by design). The problems were recently documented in a report by US PIRG:

Americans who rely on wheelchairs can be left stranded in a multi-billion-dollar market for Complex Rehabilitation Technology (CRT) like power wheelchairs—part of a $50 billion Durable Medical Equipment (DME) industry that is increasingly dominated by a handful of large, national suppliers.

Unlike traditional consumer electronics customers, America’s 3 million electric wheelchair users can find themselves stuck in bed for months when they run face-first into repair monopolies. But, like most other U.S. business sectors, the real underlying culprit is corruption, consolidation, and greed:

The multibillion-dollar power-wheelchair market is dominated by two national suppliers, Numotion and National Seating and Mobility. Both are owned by private equity firms that seek to increase profits and cut spending. One way they do that is by limiting what they spend on technicians and repairs, which, when combined with insurance and regulatory obstacles, frustrates wheelchair users seeking timely fixes.

This consolidation means less competition, so not only are chairs harder to fix, the quality is lower making them break more often. The Medicare competitive bidding process also favors these industry giants, which are capable of reaching economies of scale to win such bids by sacrificing quality and customer service. The end result is a big mess that’s easy to ignore if it doesn’t directly hurt you or somebody you love.

As with other right to repair target industries (farm equipment, medical equipment, consumer hardware, smartphones), the DMCA criminalizes folks hoping to do it themselves, and the companies involved go out of their way to restrict access to necessary parts, tools, and documentation to “authorized vendors” (usually some extension of the dominant companies).

Colorado’s new law, which, again, won’t get much attention in the NFT Elon Musk brain fart era of U.S. tech coverage, requires these manufacturers to supply parts, manuals, and unlock codes to electric wheelchair owners and independent technicians. This, in turn, will help free these wheelchair users from what Doctorow calls the “endless bureaucratic nightmares” they’re forced to inhabit.

While it’s been a grim era for consumer rights overall, the right to repair movement’s jump from niche nerd fare to the mainstream has been a breath of fresh air. And while the first round of laws are highly restrictive in terms of what’s actually covered, most of these solutions tap into such deep longstanding frustration among consumers, they’re seeing broad bipartisan support that’s only going to grow.

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Comments on “Colorado Brings The ‘Right To Repair’ Movement To Wheelchairs”

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Anonymous Coward says:


What happens if I buy a non-medical electric seated scooter that just happens to look like a wheelchair? I presume it’s not covered by insurance, but it seems to me like these days it might actually be cheaper to buy a non-certified “4-wheel scooter” than to get an electric wheelchair via insurance.

And the FDA should not have any say in what I do with my electrically powered scooter chair. Neither should DOT if I keep it off the public roads.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

So specialized... so limited... our RIGHTS are being treated as PRIVILEGES that we can then GIVE AWAY.

Rights vs privileges are pretty clear. We’re taught in the US that the first ten amendments to the US Constitution is the Bill of Rights, and those can’t be taken away from us. I left a quiz below. See if you know the real Bill of Rights.

Relatedly, the right to own what you bought, in some circles The Right of First Purchase, means you can do with it what you like.

But not with John Deere tractors.
Or Apple iCrap.
or Electric Wheelchairs.

And let me add that diabetics the world over would love to hook up the electric “glucometer” to the “electric insulin pump” but are prohibited by manufacturer restrictions from doing so.

If they could, and they did, their glucose would be regulated so much better than the current “finger stick a few times a day and take meds or insulin” method. <— Barbaric in comparison.

Wheelchairs. Pretty simple. Add an electric motor. Still simple. And yet, unmodifiable, unrepairable.

These are rights we need, not privileges we’ve given up or lack.

One more just to bring it home. We’ve had televisions for decades. We’ve even had “smart” televisions for decades. At what point would we allow television manufacturers to tell us what our rights are? You think we might be there because they spy on what we watch, when we switch channels, how long we watch ads, and send those to the mothership. No.

Next up we won’t be able to switch channels or input sources without viewing some part before “skip ad.”

Next up we won’t be able to turn down the volume below 20% (I made that number up) without agreeing to something that may say “But the TV will return the volume to this current setting in five minutes.”

When we allow 3rd parties to turn RIGHTS into PRIVILEGES and then contract with us to TAKE AWAY OUR PRIVILEGES for nebulous gains… we lose.

I’ll be riding my Rascal scooter to take my glucose reading while my TV records it all.

And now… you’re smarter than everyone on TechDirt. You know the Constitution like the back of someone’s hand. Sure thing. Name the ten amendments that form the Bill of Rights. I’ve provided helpful notes.

Amendment 1: Anyone know this one? Hint: It isn’t what you thing. The first four words clearly say “CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW”. You’ll note that missing there is FaceBook or anything your neighbor said.

Amendment 2: This one is easy, right? …Rights shall not be infringed.” And yet, they are. The NFA made sure of that.

Amendment 3: crickets Anyone? Buehler?

Amendment 4: Yeah the NSA and the FBI really worked hard to make this one go away they got Judge Colleen working with them. [Future TD article]

Amendment 5: Sure, you don’t have to incriminate yourself, but you might have to explain it to a judge in camera, who may then force you to testify and/or grand immunity from prosecution for doing so.

6AM (time to get up?) Speedy and public trial. And yet (another TD article coming up) some cases are in their 5th year about a guy tossed in prison for 17 days because American Airlines. I didn’t see that on TV and 2018-2022 isn’t speedy.

7AM (ok, snooze is over) If it’s over $20 then jury trial is a right that shall be preserved. Except, of course, if you’ve signed away a right (how can you sign away a thing that can’t be abridged?) Tesla, SpaceX, people who slept with Trump, etc. these are your rights.

8AM no excessive bail. TD has covered this in detail. The whole purpose of bail is to preserve the person showing up in court. It has NOTHING to do with the nature of the crime. Like I said, TD has this one covered. I wish major media players would read it.

9am – legalese kind of like that whole “The titles of the paragraphs are just here in this contract to look pretty but don’t use them to mean anything.”

10am – Hey if it’s not a federal thing, it’s a state thing or a people thing. This is used in constitutional suits about laws passed by the “wrong” juris[my]diction.

Rocky says:


And let me add that diabetics the world over would love to hook up the electric “glucometer” to the “electric insulin pump” but are prohibited by manufacturer restrictions from doing so.

Funny that, a friend have been using an integrated unit the last years which he can tweak from an app on his phone when need be. My guess this is an uniquely US-problem once again.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Closed loops and rights vs privileges

You know, I could have sworn Ehud Gavron was discussing insulin pumps and blood glucose regulators in the US,

Swear away — you’d be right.

TL;DR the whole “Type I diabetes melitus” and “Type II diabetes melitus” and various side effects would become moot if the instant-meter and insulin-dispenser were linked in a tight feedback loop (without heterodyning).

This would tremendously improve the lives of ONE IN NINE PEOPLE ON EARTH RIGHT NOW.

But the manufacturers of both types of devices refuse to allow this. It’s not just “can’t have Johnny from the auto shop come over n’ fix’n up my wheelchair.” It’s literally taking 11% of people and saying “no more glucose spikes. so your eyesight, your hands, your feet, all good. See you in three months. [Twelve if you’re a US person without Congressmen’s special insurance. Europe has the US beat on this one so bad…]

And THAT was the “TL” portion…

Copyright and other laws are used –in the US– to prevent people from using a glucometer tied into an insulin pump to automatically regulate blood glucose. There are half a billion diabetics on this little globe (roughly 11% of everyone you know, or 1/9 people if you round down.) Their problem isn’t “keeping blood sugar low/high” but rather preventing the spikes that come with the finger-stick gom jabbar thing only happening 2 or 3 times a day. The constant-hooked electronic reader fixes the input side of that cycle, and tying it to the insulin pump fixes the outputs of that cycle [for Type I — insulin dependent — but that distinction would be rendered meaningless with such a system].

but what do I know? After all, it’s not like he added a point-by-point discussion of the Bill of Rights or anything to clarify matters. Q-/

My point there is that there are privileges, some which we’re granted because we breathe, and some because we pass certain tests (driving, flying an aircraft, serving alcohol to drunken people at a bar, etc.) THOSE we are granted, but they are not inherently ours. They CAN [and frequently are] [be] taken away.

RIGHTS are things that are not supposed to be taken away, nor can we give them up, not even in a contract of adhesion with a sociopath who supports racism and sexism on the shop floor of his EV mfg facility.

AND YET, when it comes to RIGHTS, most USexicans don’t even know the basic tenets of the backbone of our Bill of Rights. I enumerated them a couple of days ago. Without reading back… can you state the gist of 3AM, 6AM, 7AM, 8AM, and oh btw is it 4AM or 5AM that says the guv’mint can’t take any part of your home, and yet the FBI [an investigative agency that is doing policing work without such a mandate] takes over your home, “seizes” your important XBOX, PS4, USB sticks, CDs, DVDs, and anything you “appeared to hide.” Could be evidence you’re a 9/11 Saudi. Could be you cheated on your husband and the other guy sent pictures/demands. Could be your kids’ inheritance you’d rather they find out about AFTER you’re dead and BEFORE they kill you for it. (That would be the South part of the US, and Florida Man is out there…)

…and yet one piece of paper handed over a door threshold has people giving up all their rights.

Some people close the door on the Fibbies and call a lawyer. Some people say that’s too expensive. Sure, save a dollar today and pay for it in the next ten years of them litigating you into financial oblivion.

Crash quiz: Which Bill of Rights part provides the right to a “Speedy Trial”, and what is “Speedy” when you have to pay for every 0.1hr of your lawyer (or 0.3 if you have 3) and he Guv’mint has unlimited coffers, refilled by all of us no later than once a year?

If you said the 8th Amendment, congratulations! You and that box of rocks tied. It’s really 6AM that addresses that.

SO hey, please make fun of me for bringing up two things:
1. The “Right to repair” is a RIGHT, not a PRIVILEGE, and while wheelchairs aren’t sexy and repairing them is kind of a mechanical (menial?) thing (that tradesmen do? Do we still respect tradesmen, or only when the toilet is stopped up or drywall needs mastick or …) DO NOT GIVE UP THESE RIGHTS nor let anyone ASSUME that you gave them up. Until you VOLUNTARILY GIVE UP YOUR RIGHTS they remain with you. (Shades of that other thread and women’s rights to their bodies.)

  1. Knowing your rights is one way to help protect them. One would think in a progressive democracy the STATE or the SYSTEM would work with you to ensure your rights are safe. Sadly there is no prize under your seat; the state is not “going high when they go low” and your rights are so violated… you might as well read the Bill of Rights.

Was that Too Long; Didn’t Read also?

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